Emmy winner Marcia McKenna: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports –

Emmy winner Marcia McKenna: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports –
Sports Emmy-winning writer Marcia McKenna

Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports–from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more–in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.

While 2022 saw the 56th Super Bowl, it was a Super Bowl of firsts in many ways: the first big Super Bowl since the pandemic; the first Super Bowl at SoFi stadium; the first halftime show headlined by hip-hop artists; and the first Sports Emmy win for a Black woman for the short documentary, NFL 360: Ode to South Central, a tribute to Los Angeles’s iconic neighborhood that aired during the big game.

Marcia McKenna became the first woman of color to win an Sports Emmy for writing last month, beating out top contenders in her category like the legendary Bob Costas, and Aaron Cohen to bring home the Dick Schaap Outstanding Writing Award for Short Form. Mary Carillo, journalist and commentator, was the only woman to win a Sports Emmy in writing. Marcia was stunned by the unexpected win. She says, “It was an outside-of-body experience.” It’s truly humbling. I feel honored and grateful.”

A veteran in the entertainment industry, having written scripts for film and television, as well as worked in story development and copy editing, McKenna still faced hesitation about if she could deliver what the NFL Network was looking for. McKenna was only given one instruction: honor South Central and have an NFL tie-in. McKenna was born and raised in South Central, and was familiar with its history. She wanted to give her former neighborhood a voice and humanize it. After just 15 minutes of writing, the award-winning copy was complete.

“I didn’t take for granted what I wrote,” McKenna says “I didn’t necessarily think they were going to like or accept it. It took me 1300 minutes. It took me 15 minutes.”

While the accolades and support were overwhelming, her short didn’t come without its share of critics. Some people didn’t get the connection between football and her short. The Crenshaw girl understood that South Central and sports were one and the same. She was referring to all the gentrified, redlined urban areas in the United States, and the resilience and persistence that they display in both good times and bad. McKenna believes that sports are a glue that binds people emotionally.

“One of the things I’ve always appreciated about sports is that race goes away,” McKenna says. “You are part of a team. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, you’re all working together to achieve something. There are so many things that are alike about us than there is about us. You are judged on your leadership, your athleticism, your ability and ability to recover from injuries, as well as your ability to manage pain. So those are the things that are universal about us.”

The South Central many are familiar with is the one depicted in gangster films or by rappers who paint a vivid image of violence and destruction. McKenna recognizes the region’s bad reputation but sees her hometown in a different light. McKenna wanted the video’s subtext to reflect the history before the violence. Families that immigrated from the South to purchase homes and work in the industries that make Los Angeles the fabric and foundation of the city. There are still generations of people living there, whether they are Black, Hispanic, or Asian. It is the U.S. and that Compton Inglewood Watts, Watts, Crenshaw are just as important as Beverly Hills or Malibu.

Like a true team player, McKenna doesn’t take all the praise for the short. Just as football is a team sport, so was the making of NFL 360: Ode to South Central. She credits the visionary director Julian Gooden, who brought her words to life; Emmy-nominated Black-ish actor Anthony Anderson, who gave her words a voice; Stephanie Yang, who won an Emmy for editing; and more importantly she credits the NFL for wanting to pay homage and celebrate the true South Central.

“The NFL specifically said let’s embrace what this is and where this is, and made a conscious and valued effort to be inclusive and to say, we are not forgetting, we’re not tossing it aside,” McKenna says.

Having been taught by her late grandmother that the strongest and greatest thing you could be is a woman, McKenna wants to see more women writers in sports. McKenna says that she writes from the heart, with emotion, and not as a weakness. The South Central tribute is a bit gritty, but the words are kind.

“I don’t know that a man could have written Ode to South Central in the same way,” McKenna says. “Even in sports, I don’t know if a man will tell stories the same way as a woman. Some stories need a woman’s touch. Men have certain limitations that women don’t have. I absolutely love being a woman writer.”


Senita Brooks is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.

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